Jettisoning all professions of abiding friendship with Pakistan, the US has threatened it with sanctions, harking back to the days of the Pressler and Symington Amendments. Secretary of State Clinton told the House Appropriation Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations on Wednesday that Pakistan could face sanctions if it pressed ahead with the Iranian gas pipeline (IP) project.
This threat of Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, should be taken for real, not mere bluster, bullying or blackmail. She warns if Pakistan doesn’t pull out of the joint gas pipeline venture with their bete-noire Iran, it would carry grave consequences for it. Sure, this would. In their mad frenzy to discipline a defiant Iran, including a contemplated much-cherished regime change in Tehran, on the excuse of Iranian nuclear pursuit, the US movers and shakers across the board are applying all leverages in their bag on the world nations to kowtow their hostile line against the Islamic Republic. And many are falling in line, even the powerful ones, compliantly. While it itself has unsheathed biting sanctions on Iran, its collusive European Union (EU) has in cahoots imposed embargo on its members from receiving the Iranian oil supplies, which will come into play from the beginning of July.
The crucial question then is if Pakistan can withstand the American coercion over this gas pipeline project, given so dismally is it presently placed economically as well as politically domestically. Iran has completed the infrastructure work on the pipeline on its side. But Pakistan is still to embark on it, for which it needs at least $1.2 billion. And this colossal sum is hard for it to muster from its own cash-strapped treasury. It will need foreign lenders to assist. But with America working its formidable clout on international lending agencies, it is inconceivable if that door is quite open to Pakistan for carrying out this project. Already, lenders like the World Bank have flatly declined funding of the project. Others, too, will certainly follow suit.
Iran itself may not be much of a help in view of crippling US sanctions. Although the Islamic Republic is as yet standing up steadfastly to these sanctions, they have evidently begun biting into its flesh. For the strangulating banking sanctions that the Obama administration has unveiled, many world buyers of Iranian oil are being driven away to seek new suppliers, mostly in the Middle East, particularly the Arab monarchies. Even with concessionary rates, Iran may not be able to retain its old customers nor seduce very many new clients for these repressive American banking-sector sanctions. And barter deals may not be able to make up for the enormous oil revenues that enable the Islamic Republic raise enough money to run the state and develop it economically for public weal.
An idea of the difficulty on this count can well be had from what petroleum and natural resources adviser Asim Hussain recently told a parliamentary committee. He said Pakistan had asked Iran for $500 million for working on the project but Tehran had agreed to provide only $250 million. Even that may become uncertain if Iran’s own financial difficulties aggravate because of the US sanctions and the EU oil embargo. Had the energy-hungry China become part of project for receiving the Iranian gas, perhaps some of the problem confronting Pakistan in executing the venture could have been mitigated. But China is no part. Indeed, it is slashing down its Iranian oil imports and contracting new suppliers to meet its demands. Russia is statedly interested in the venture but wants Pakistan to contract out the pipeline construction to its energy giant Gazprom.
Then there is the issue of laying down the pipeline on our side. It has to pass through Balochistan, mostly the Baloch belt. And not just the proxies from amongst the Baloch diaspora that American sleuths and legislative panjandrums have set up are vowing never to let this pipeline pass through Balochistan. But also the sardari scions housed in privileged guest houses abroad publicly declare they will ingratiatingly welcome if the Americans, for that matter any other power, intervene on their side in separating Balochistan from Pakistan. What price they will be ready to pay their benefactors, if they are Americans, can easily be imagined.
In any case, if the Americans are using stick, they are also dangling carrot to Pakistan to wean it away from the project. They speak of $one billion in aid to help it tide over its energy crisis. But with it bitter past experiences of such US pledges, what trust can Pakistan place on this promise? They renege on those solemn pledges as quickly as they make them, remorselessly. They say they have also already spent $120 million on energy project in Pakistan. But our people know nothing of it. They indeed want Pakistan to go for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project, which is still in process, but to leave the Iran-Pakistan joint venture, which is a done deal.
But Pakistan’s need is urgent and pressing, which only its joint pipeline venture with Iran can meet. And the Islamabad establishment must tell the people how it wants to complete it, so that when the American axe falls they help it to throw it back disdainfully.